Yesterday began by our avoiding stress early as we chased yet another dubious cheque sent by our errant builder. This finally had me standing outside our bank in a corona-queue, feeling my own mortality. The perfect physique of the slim, broad shouldered man ahead of me, muscular without bulge, a body moulded from birth by healthy activity. Not that long ago, my wife assured me, my recently frailer and enfeebled frame was more astounding than his.
It was a long wait upon the sun splashed pavement and we got talking to this candid man from the slums of South America. Drug gangs, knife-edge existence, the tough survived. He’d come here via The Bronx, a slum by New York standards and we compared our views on the injustices of America and the Third World.
“For years I’ve loved this country! Most Brits don’t know what they have! Your wonderful Health Service; free education; a listening police force who don’t beat or shoot you; a legal system striding for justice rather than pandering to the wealthy; you can walk the streets without fear; sit in a park without concern; there’s a safety net for the poor. What you call utter poverty, compared to the millions I grew up amongst, is comfort and wealth. You moan about how bad Britain is, but The USA can’t compete. Wake up, you are in paradise!”
On that note, we drove off to celebrate ignored birthdays, a wedding anniversary and 23 weeks of renovating this once troubled house. Due to my vulnerability, we took a table on the narrow terrace which hangs above a steep park spilling down to the promenade, children’s voices rose from the beach, fishing boats came and went across the broad bay where our seafood and fish were harvested that morning. The ideal location, a world-renowned chef, affordable prices. Each dish was perfect, as were the characterful Italian wines. A voice asked what I thought of my bowl of cockles and lovage and told the chef, “Perfect balance of taste, as good as they come.” Sat the slim food-bar edging the terrace, he was having a break and enjoying the same dish. I’d already told him that the oysters fried in cider-batter and laid upon a bed of mayonnaise with a smoky nip were amazing.
Three hours later we left to walk around the small town and its lovely beaches but the view from the park was too good to leave and we sat watching holiday makers relishing their lazy day. A young man played football with his infant boy and a feisty five year old girl. He didn’t compromise, though he did kick softly and she took each shot well, learning from his absolute skill and toying with the ball. He could make it do whatever he wanted, tap it into the air, catch it from behind upon his hell knock it up his back, over his shoulder and roll it down his chest and then send it fifty metres to land one step from her little frame. It was balletic, an expert at play, wondrous, artistic, we were transfixed. Though the ball dwarfed her, she her face shone as she controlled it and gently passed it to her tiny brother.
The chef, returning from chatting to fishermen far below, hesitated when I waved and thanked him. We talked of his ethos - the sea, the freshest catch, working with the fishermen, inviting them over after a days work for a free drink and snacks made of their catch. “Yesterday one of my customers bought a live lobster to take home directly from a fisherman standing at the bar! Perfect!”
We talked of his raising money for cancer, “I hire myself out at £10,000 to cook in peoples’ homes.” He knew some of our friends and this lead to my disclosing that for a month I’ve once again been under the ‘C’ cloud. He wandered off to work and sent two complimentary Martini’s to us so far away in the park.
As we drove home with the lid down, the stunning sunset got us talking of the seemingly inevitable. We agreed that, whatever our current situation, we’ve had the best of marriages. It could not have been more perfect. My wife has taught me so much, she has given me everything. Our love has never failed. That is rare. We are the best of friends, which is all any sane person ever wants. When I’m gone, I implored that she should relish this.
Yes, she agreed, but how sad - such bad timing - by accident, after decades of struggling we have finally landed on our feet. We have money, not much, but enough. We have an ideal home, private, perfectly situated, future-proofed, a stunning sculptural house which the loan-company’s terse surveyor said is, “Unique, astounding, renovated to the perfect balance between old and new. Amazing.”
I am glad that, should I go soon, my lovely wife will have this security. "But without you," she added. "With our spirit," I countered.
But, who knows what life has in stall for any of us - I may yet outlive you who read this rapidly written blog!